Goal safe at the highest level
by Mário Duarte
translated from O Jogo
He is an enormous keeper: subject to the hardships of having to adapt to a different reality, from working methods, to language, country and colleagues and even opponents and the competitive demands, Vladimir Stojkovic, the Serb, with 195 centimetres height, recruited by the Lions to the French of Nantes, has, even with a few hurdles, corresponded totally to the highest expectations that Sporting's directors (and fans) could put in the new owner of the number 34 jersey.
To start, and having as basis of analysis all the goalkeepers that, during the last two decades - and just like Stojkovic -, where bought to be starters at the Lions' goal and looking at their performances in their first eleven matches - independently from the competitions - played during their debut season, one notices that "Stoi" is only beaten by the last Eastern European keeper - then arriving from ex-Yugoslavia - who, in 1989, arrived at Alvalade in those conditions: Tomislav Ivkovic. Apart from that, the start of the Serb in the Lion's kingdom reveals a better efficiency than the one of the internationally capped players Filip De Wilde, Peter Schmeichel or Ricardo.
It is true that he is linked with the defeat at Dragão, for the League, for having facilitated in the free interpretation to which is subject the famous Rule XII, grabbing a ball kicked by Polga - with or without intention of passing it back, that's the question...closed by Pedro Proença, calling for an indirect free-kick in the box, converted by Raúl Meireles -, and he is also linked with the draw in Alvalade against Setúbal, for a so called "treason" of the pitch, but..."Stoi" goes on gaining the trust of the supporters, coach and, above all, his team mates, with his safe displays managed against Benfica, Manchester United, Guimarães and, as a paradigm of the top class goalkeeper that he pretends to become with the lion at his chest, Dynamo Kiev. The Serb recorded, in the Ukrainian capital, a superb display, denying any other score that wouldn't be the Lions' win - the first in their history as visitors for the Champions League -, of which was synonim of 3 points and 600,000 euros.
The levels of trust and the effective adaptation seem to confirm the terms reclaimed by the records: Stojkovic is one of the best newcomers for the goal that the Lions have ever welcomed - when seen under the performance during the first eleven games of the season (of which he played 10). Promising...
To freeze the Ukrainian capital
It can seem like a paradox, but it isn't: Sporting and Dynamo met in Kiev "advised" to win to feed the dream of proceeding in the Champions League. Stojkovic simply did not allow the Ukrainian champions to reach victory, that he hold with a fistful of "impossible" saves, grabbing the three points and the 600 thousand euros of the win.
Debut with a lucky star
Stojkovic debuted in the first official match of 2007/08, conquering his first trophy as a Lion, won with an anthology goal of Izmailov. At the Super Cup, against Porto, he registered a clean sheet, but he saw the ball being stopped twice by his posts. It was a fortunate debut evening, as starting unbeaten is always a good start.
To faciliate and...foul
Polga's intervention was read by Pedro Proença as an intentional back pass - Stojkovic hesitated and, facing the proximity of Postiga...grabbed the ball. The move gave the only goal at Dragão, by Raúl Meireles. "To grab balls, never again", he would say, afterwards. The trauma will vanish with time, but the mistake cannot be repeated: it costed a defeat against a direct opponent.
"Treason" of the dead grass
The hosting of Setúbal will stay, certainly, in the memory of "Stoi": Sporting started badly and reached half time losing. After Moutinho equalised from the spot and the Lions make a forcing to reach victory, the number 34 will look badly on the picture, alleging to have been betrayed by the grass after a shot by Matheus that left the "Sadinos" again ahead in the score. Purovic would make the final 2-2...
The last great reference
It is not by chance that the first and easiest comparison of the new owner of Sporting's goal be made with his predecessor. After all, the great challenge that Stojkovic faces it is to make everybody forget Ricardo, "the penalties hero" - mainly at the Selecção. The ex-captain of the Lions, however, did not have an easy life on his first days in Alvalade, being used in all the first eleven matches, but allowing a dozen goals - a record for which contributed very much the tough loss at Antas (1-4).
The frightening Dane
He was a marking figure in 1999/2000, on the conquest of the title that had been away from Alvalade during 18 years. The charismatic keeper that shone at Bröndby and, at the highest level, at Manchester United, was the commanding voice and an agile giant between the posts. On his first game as a Lion, however, he suffered two goals and, on the first ten where he played in the first eleven played by Sporting (the same using rate of...Stojkovic), he allowed...ten goals. At the dawn of his career, he was still frightening and he was a decisive Lion.
A Belgian that willl not be missed
De Wilde arrived at Sporting by the hand of his compatriot that managed the club by then, Robert Waseige. The substitute of Preud'Homme at the Belgian NT started in Vila do Conde, conceding three goals on a hard won triumph by the Lions (4-3). He saw FC Porto score in Alvalade for the win, but he beat Benfica at home. In the UEFA Cup, on the first eleven games of the season, he still allowed one goal in Montpellier, before starting to leave his place between the posts to the substitute Tiago...
From the East came the best start
Tomislav Ivkovic, the last goalkeeper from Eastern Europe that had success in the Lion's kingdom, had a bright start in Alvalade - in spite of, on his debut, against Guimarães, having conceeded two goals. On his first eleven games, the (by then) Yugoslav did not allow any goal against FC Porto, nor in the two games for the UEFA Cup (two clean sheets against Napoli, having won the Italians on the penalty shoot out). He suffered the defeat's lonely goal against Benfica in Alvalade, but he is, still today, the keeper bought to the club with a better start at Sporting.